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July 11, 2004

Disabled audiences get theater access

From: Times Picayune, LA - Jul 11, 2004

Jane Pic

Nearly 30 years ago WGBH, a public television station in Boston, revolutionized television and video by providing program dialogue as text, or "captions," on the lower third of the television screen for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Realizing that the need was as great for people who are blind or visually impaired, the Media Access Group at WGBH then began to work to develop a technology that would enable access to visual images. In 1992 the Motion Picture Access, or MoPix, project was formed as a research and development tool to investigate ways in which to make TV, videos and movies accessible not only to people who are deaf or have hearing impairments but also to people who are blind or visually impaired.

Rear Window Captioning -- co-developed by WGBH and Rufus Butler Seder of Boston -- and Descriptive Video Service Theatrical make movies accessible to audiences with these types of disabilities. Rear Window Captioning gives movie fans who have hearing loss the enjoyment of a film via reflected captions that appear on a Plexiglas panel at their seat while not disturbing other patrons, who cannot see the captions. The reflective panels are portable and adjustable, which lets the user sit anywhere in the theater.

DVS Theatrical, through the use of headsets, presents concise narration of visual cues -- including scenery, facial expressions and silent movement of characters -- through an FM or infrared system delivered to the headsets for the blind or visually impaired. Digital Theater Systems of Agoura Hills, Calif., collaborated with WGBH on the technology. There is no charge for the use of these systems to the theater-goers. The systems are available on specific days and times in an equipped theater auditorium.

Industry and consumer response to these access technologies has been tremendous, and several theater chains have installed the systems nationwide as well as in Canada. Locally, the MoPix systems are available in AMC Elmwood 20's theater No. 1 in Harahan and in AMC Palace 12's theater No. 1 at Clearview Shopping Center, Metairie. The latest films to be shown were "SpiderMan 2" and "The Terminal."

For information about using these systems contact the theaters: AMC Elmwood 20 at (504) 733-2029, AMC Palace 12 at (504) 887-1257. To view a list of theaters equipped with MoPix around the country and current films and show times check the Web site

For more information about these access efforts and a list of films scheduled to be released, contact the Media Access Group at or the Web site:

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Jane Pic, mother of a daughter with Down syndrome, writes about issues of interest to people with disabilities. Write her at P.O. Box 9062, Metairie, LA 70055 or send e-mail to her at

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